There are times when you walk into a movie thinking you know what it is going to be about. By the end the film was, to say the least, the exact opposite of what you paid for. This can be awful, but every once in a while a surprise can be better than preconceived notions. These are my Top 10 Unexpected Movies. As always, not best movies in order. This is all about being pleasantly surprised.
10. “Moon” 2009:
Initially pitched as a one man show in trailers starring Sam Rockwell, director Duncan Jones’s breakout low-budget sci-fi thriller “Moon” takes a hard left turn halfway through. Rockwell plays an astronaut on a three year solo stint for Lunar Industries harvesting helium. Accompanied only with a small talking robot named GERTY, Rockwell is becoming stir crazy with the long stint of being alone. Or is he? Twists normally come at the end and for the most part suck. “Moon” uses the rather clever change of events as part of the overall story arc to deliver a movie that is not the same one at the beginning.
9. “The Host” (2006):
On the surface, this Korean based monster film looked liked by the numbers horror filmmaking. Director Bong Joon Ho’s “The Host” is anything but. A monster, created by the Seoul government dumping nuclear waste into the Han river, emerges and begins attacking the surrounding city. A desperate father runs to escape with his family from certain death. For some reason the creature captures his youngest daughter alive and takes her to its lair. Her untrained but determined family will stop at nothing to get her back. What makes “The Host” so unexpectedly original is the journey of the family trying to hunt down the monster. It goes from a rip-off of Godzilla to a hilarious family comedy similar to a “Little Miss Sunshine”. The moments of terror are there, but “The Host” keeps it light and in a certain way inspiring.
8. “Frailty” (2001):
The late Bill Paxton’s directorial debut “Frailty” starring Matthew McCounaghey looked on the surface to be a standard parent gone mad slasher pic. Turns out it is a deep look into both religion as well as trusting your elders. McCounaghey plays a stranger who walks into an FBI agency to recount the killing spree as a child with his younger brother and deranged father. Paxton plays a mechanic and single parent to the boys. The family is coping with the recent death of their mother. One night, Paxton rushes into the boy’s room claiming that he has been sent a message from god in the form of an angel and that the family is to be a weapon in vanquishing demons in the world. The younger brother is excited while the older is skeptical. From there, a murder spree begins starting with pops bringing home a scared woman. He touches her and claims that he can feel the demon, then kills her in front of the boys. It appears that pops has lost his mind after his wife’s untimely death. Or has he? “Frailty” is one of those rare movies that if I was still working at a video store I would be torn as to classify this in horror or drama. That’s how original this one is.
7: “Bambi” (1942):
Ok, hear me out with this one. The old school Disney classic “Bambi” is a perennial milestones for the company. It starts out as a happy animal tale for the kiddos complete with the cutest little rabbit in thumper. As the cute fuzzy creature says, “IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANYTHING NICE TO SAY, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL.” Everything seems like a cuddly tale about motherly love until she gets, for lack of a better word, straight up blasted by a hunter. Damn humans. From there we go into a story about an orphaned young buck trying to make it in the real world. For a child, the idea that even a plucky animal romp can turn into real life style themes is just one reason “Bambi” remains a must see while growing up.
6. “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988):
Director Martin Scorsese, a devout Catholic, received death threats when he released his controversial take on the story of Jesus in “The Last Temptation of Christ”. A history teacher at my former high school was suspended for showing this to his class due to multiple complaints from parents. For me, not a religious person, I did not understand the reason why people were up in arms. “Last Temptation” is a realistic portrayal of the supposed life of Christ, albeit including nudity when Jesus saves Mary Magdalen from a brothel. The unexpected moment comes during the last 20 minutes. While star Willem Dafoe is placed on the cross, the devil tempts him with a glimpse of what life could have been by coming down and living a normal person life by marrying Mary Magdalen. Once again, not a religious person, my admittedly ignorant conception of Jesus was that he was both god and man. So why Scorsese’s take on the symbol on the cross being tempted by a normal life, even though he still sacrifices for society in the end, is beyond me. “The Last Temptation of Christ” is a realistic look at the Christian faith that many believers were not into accepting.
5. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010):
With the rise of multiple visual mediums as well as several popular music outlets, the traditional thought of “Art” has become incredibly diluted in today’s society. I have always appreciated and enjoy a good art show, but I do not know it well enough to be critical on it. Banksy is the only artist in my generation that I can name off the top of my head. His street art and exhibits have become world renowned, even though almost nobody knows what he looks like. His 2010 documentary “Exit Through the the Gift Shop” is a look at the street art scene in the early 2000’s. However, is this actually a documentary or a performance art piece all along? Is Banksy, at this point well established, trolling rich and famous people such as actors Jude Law and singer Christina Aguilera to name a few? This new street artist titled Mr. Brainwash spends hundreds of hours documenting the crazy high end street art scene before eventually getting his own big time show in L.A. with huge celebrities and millions of dollars brought in. Was this a genuine documentary or a long haul performance piece? Only Banksy knows, but the story is unexpected at every turn.
4. “Seven Psychopaths” (2012):
To this day I argue that writer/director Martin McDonagh’s ironic comedy “Seven Psychopaths”, a story on both life and Hollywood, is one of the best screenplays ever written. The cast, led by Colin Farrel as a struggling screenwriter, is such an explosive collection of characters and stories that if you blink, a big moment will pass by. While trying to keep his career afloat, Farrel gets inadvertently caught up in a ransom game involving a dog being kidnapped from a high level mob boss. And that is just four of the “Seven Psychopaths”, all of which with a story so unbelievable it has to be true. Or is it a screenplay taking place in the real world? What was pitched as a fun play on the film business morphs into a chaotic game of cat and mouse on multiple levels, and it is hilarious.
3. “Three Kings” (1999):
When initially pitched to movie goers, “Three Kings” appeared to be a comedy war movie about a group of American soldiers led by George Clooney trying to rip off gold from a compound in Iraq during the Desert Storm war. It should be an easy in and out operation as American troops have free reign into Saddam Husseins facilities around the country. Then, as the crew is about to leave with millions in gold bricks, the Iraqi soldiers begin executing local people in the village. The group of thieves must decide what is more important, the money or helping people survive. “Three Kings” switches lanes real fast from being a quirky military comedy to a serious look at what is most important in being a soldier. And that is protecting the innocent no matter their country.
2. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012):
Hurricane Katrina devastated the Louisiana area, especially New Orleans. The more impoverished regions along the gulf coast were hit the worst, taking many years to recover. A young 30 year old director in Benh Zeitlin made a movie about the devastation in “Beast of the Southern Wild”. What was not expected is that it turned out to be a majestical fairy tale told through the eyes of a young six-year-old named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her adventures. Her hot-headed father and the melting ice caps flooding her shanty town have everyone around going full on crazy with homes and possessions destroyed. The imagination of the child coping envisions ancient creatures known as Aurochs being released from the ice caps melting. While dealing with extreme strife, the little Hushpuppy inspires a great deal of hope and imagination in an environment one would not expect.
1. “Joker” (2019):
While my personal favorite take on Batman’s most iconic villain would be the late Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”. Joaquin Phoenix comes pretty damn close and won another Oscar for the character in “Joker”. The idea of a solo Joker film directed by the guy who directed the “Hangover” movies sounded like a recipe for disaster and was going to be a stupid comedy. Nope. Turns out “Joker” is a serious take on a man with mental issues being turned into a psychopath. Phoenix’s performance is unbelievable and the somber tone is a fresh look at the madman. There is a reason why those steps are now a popular tourist destination in New York.